BY EVRİM ALTUĞ AND KAYA GENÇ
Robert Fisk's Turkish publisher has doubts about bringing out his autobiographical book where he talks about the Armenian genocide. But paradoxically the original English edition is on sale in Turkey.
Nowadays Robert Fisk's biggest problem is neither Osama bin Laden's whereabouts nor the escalating violence in the Middle East. What is bothering The Independent's acclaimed correspondent in Iraq so much is, well, Turkey and its' notorious Article 301 under which prominent figures such as the Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk and novelist Elif Shafak had been persecuted last year. His latest book "The Great War for Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East" was scheduled to be published here in Turkey, just like 16 other countries including France, Sweden, Italy and Brazil. But that will not happen as the Turkish publisher is rightly concerned about the possible nationalist outrage which may follow.
Mr Fisk who spoke to NEWSWEEK last month is determined to see his work published and will go as far as come to Istanbul and stand in the courthouse where the publisher and the translator of his book will probably stand trial. At the heart of the crisis lies the fragile ethos of Turkey after the murder of Hrant Dink, an editor of the popular minority newspaper Agos. Even though Harper Collins signed a contract with Agora Publishers in 2003, way before Dink's murder, the rising tensions of Turkish political climate makes it extremely difficult to publish a work in which one of the chapters is entitled "The First Holocaust". There Fisk speaks of the massacres that took place in 1915 in the eastern provinces of the country as the "first genocide of human history". His sources are certain elderly Armenian exasperates in Lebanon with whom he conducted intensive interviews during the writing of his book.
Fisk's editor in Turkey is Osman Akinhay, a nice and hardworking man who is one of the leading figures among Turkey's leftist intellectuals. "I do have doubts about that chapter," he says and then puts the blame on current Turkish laws which makes it illegal to "publicly denigrate Turkishness or the Republic of the Grand National Assembly of Turkey". Fisk's book is "of great value" according to Akinhay and "there is no doubt that I am willing to publish it." However this was not enough for Fisk who published Akinhay's letter in his column last month where he accused Agora of "chickening out of publishing" his book. In a telephone interview with NEWSWEEK, Fisk told us from a hotel room in Atlanta that censoring the chapter on Armenian genocide is "out of the question". His book had been published in France recently where a bill that would make it a crime to deny the Armenian genocide was postponed last year. For Fisk who is also struggling with an article that is the direct opposite of the French one, "it would be an honor to discuss the Armenian Genocide in a Turkish court."
But that’s not the end of the story as anyone can freely purchase paperback or hardcover editions of "The Great War" in the fashionable bookstores of Istanbul. Due to a leak in the bureaucratic system, Turkish custom officials have no directives telling them what to do with the "prohibited books". Books such as Salman Rushdie's “The Satanic Verses” and Tamer Akcam's "A Shameful Act", both about taboo subjects in Turkey (God and the Armenian genocide) can therefore be sold freely in Turkey. But as a strange irony of globalization, only in English.